Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Schools Building Projects
I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy English, here his morning to answer this really important question. I hope I will get a very favourable answer due to the fact he is from County Meath and knows the area.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, clearly show that our population has increased by almost 13% over recent years. The development of new houses, along with the granting of planning permissions in our area and the surrounding areas, shows that another secondary school is needed. Almost 400 Ukrainians have settled in our area over the last couple of months. All this increase is leading to a demand for a new secondary school in our area.
Not only do we have a need for a new school, but we also have the land available to build it. In 2005, the then Bishop of Meath tried to rezone lands owned by the community and St. Finian's Diocesan Trust. That was the only piece of community land we had for the provision of community facilities and educational facilities. Thankfully, I tabled a motion at the time to the effect that this land would not be rezoned, Hence, we have 27 acres there ready to go. The bishop kindly said that if the Department of Education wants that land for the provision of a secondary school, it is there for the Department to negotiate with the trust. There is very good access to the site on Station Road from which cars and buses could enter. Bus access could also come in from the business park and pedestrian access could also go in from the main street.
In 2018, the Department decided it was going to build a secondary school. We thought we were going to get it in Duleek because the need was clearly there. Unfortunately, it went over to the Grange Rath-Mornington area. There was nothing we could do about it. It was an Educate Together school. We did not win the vote at that time. Clearly, however, our population has increased since then.
We have 12 feeder schools, namely, Duleek Boys National School, Duleek Girls National School, Scoil Cholmcille Mount Hanover, Bellewstown National School, Cushinstown National School, St. Patrick's National School in Ardcath, Donore National School, Knockcommon National School, Kentstown National School, Rathfeigh National School, Skryne National School and Yellow Furze National School. In addition, there is an option for children to come from Whitecross National School or even from Slane or Curragha. The options available at this time are in Drogheda, Laytown, Navan, Ashbourne and Grange Rath.
We have talk about creating a green environment. We are talking about giving kids the option to cycle or walk to school. We do not have that option in Duleek. Some of our children must leave for school and be picked up at 7.25 a.m. Indeed, one Facebook comment read as follows:
Will never forget when I was going to St. Oliver's. My bus picked me up at 7.25 and I'd be in school for 8 o'clock. School not starting 'til 9 then finished at 3.30 and didn't get off bus till 10 to 5 coming home. How I wish Duleek had a secondary school. [Hopefully we will see it] before my kids have to go to secondary [school].
Building a school within walking distance is really important if we want to cut emissions from cars and buses and give children a healthier lifestyle. I am hoping to get a favourable answer.I spoke to the Taoiseach when he was briefing Senators in the House last year and getting a secondary school for Duleek was one of my key priorities. There is a need for it and I hope the Minister of State will give some hope this morning that the Department will consider it.
I thank Senator Keogan for the opportunity to have this conversation. I assure the Senator that I do not want to upend the Taoiseach, as he is a higher authority than me, but I will try to give the Senator as positive a reply as possible. It is important that we are discussing education when there are seven young students in the Visitors Gallery from County Meath. A lot of them like cycling bicycles to school even though they are all in primary school. It is great to have them here. We have a teacher from St. Patrick's as well, so it is an important time to talk about education in Meath. It is under pressure.
The Minister, Deputy Foley, sends her apologies that she could not be here as she is at a Cabinet meeting. She is very committed to making sure that schools are in the right place at the right time. That is the issue being raised by the Senator regarding the position in Duleek, County Meath, and the need for a new school there to cater for the number of students in Duleek and the surrounding areas. I think the Senator mentioned most of the townlands. It shows the significance of the pressure in that growing area. The census will record a greatly increased population in Meath East as well, which would be served by the school the Senator mentioned.
To plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, the Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and uses a geographical information system, GIS, using data from a range of sources, including child benefit and school enrolment data, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise and where additional school accommodation is needed at primary and post-primary levels. Major new residential developments in a school planning area have the potential to alter demand in that area. In that regard, as part of the demographic exercises, the Department gathers up-to-date information on significant new residential developments in each local authority area. This is necessary to ensure that schools infrastructure planning is keeping pace with demographic changes. Project Ireland 2040 population and housing targets also inform the Department’s projections of school place requirements. The Department’s use of GIS additionally facilitates the identification of more localised pressure points within an overall school planning area. As in the area of Duleek, it can focus on what is happening in a small area as well.
Where data indicate that additional provision is required at primary or post-primary level, the delivery of such additional provision is dependent on the particular circumstances of each case and may be provided through either one, or a combination of, the following: utilising existing unused capacity within a school or schools; extending the capacity of a school or schools, which happened back 2018 and 2019 in this area; or provision of a new school or schools.
Duleek is in the Drogheda school planning area and, as the Senator is aware, based on previous demographic analysis a new-post primary school to serve the Drogheda and Laytown school planning areas, Drogheda Educate Together Secondary School, was established in 2019 and a project to provide a new school building to accommodate 1,000 pupils and four classrooms for pupils with special educational needs is in train. The Department is also providing significant capital funding at other post-primary schools in the Drogheda school planning area, including extension projects at St. Oliver’s Community College, Sacred Heart Secondary School, St. Mary’s Diocesan School and St. Joseph’s CBS.
In respect of the Senator’s reference to the preliminary census 2022 results, the Department has noted this information and looks forward to further elaboration from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, on these in 2023, including with regard to the age profile of the population which is of relevance in respect of children of schoolgoing age. The Department’s most recent demographic analysis from 2021 indicates that current and planned post-primary provision in the Drogheda school planning area is sufficient to meet the projected requirement for school places. However, a refreshed process is currently under way for 2022 and will have regard to updated information concerning school enrolments, population statistics and planned additional housing, as well as enrolment of Ukrainian children and existing capacity in schools. The Senator mentioned that over 400 Ukrainian children have entered schools so it is important that this is captured in the data as well. School place requirements in the Drogheda school planning area, and specifically in the Duleek area, will continue to be kept under review, informed by this updated information.
I am familiar with the area of Duleek and the county generally, so I totally understand the pressure on the education system when it comes to numbers. In addition, there is the movement of people into Drogheda, Navan and up to Dunshaughlin and Ashbourne, so the entire area is under pressure for school places. The Senator is right to call for a review and for Duleek to be examined specifically. In my view, it would make sense and I believe the figures might support that. I am glad the Department is reviewing the figures and will have updated information on that, probably by this time next year for 2023, to inform decisions thereafter.
I look forward to that review. There is a great deal of development taking place in the south of the county towards Grangerath and Mornington. There is a 1,000-pupil school being built there currently, but that will be filled with what is coming down the line due to population increases in that area. I am specifically seeking a secondary school for my area. The need and demand are there. I am not sure if it will be a 1,000-pupil school, but certainly 500 to 600 children could use the school. It is a 27-acre site and it could be a fabulous educational facility with all the auxiliary recreational supports for a good student life to be had on that site. I will keep the Minister of State to his word with regard to the review. I probably will be back here again towards the end of the year asking again and I will look forward to a more favourable response.
Again, I thank Senator Keogan for raising the matter. It is important that we constantly review these figures and track the population. Having spent time as a Minister of State in the Department of Education, I understand the system it has. It is quite good at analysing the data and the figures, but sometimes it can miss some local information as well. It is important that we constantly have these debates to feed into that.
The Senator mentioned the site being made available by the bishop. I thank Bishop Deenihan, who we all know is very focused on education, for being co-operative and working with the local authorities, the Senator and others in the area to make sure that a site is possible. That certainly makes it easier. If the Department from its analysis of the census figures and the population trends, with the number of additional pupils coming from Ukraine and so forth added in, deems it necessary to have a new school, it is great to have a site ready. It will also speed up the process to deliver the school. We will know next year if it makes sense from a population point of view. Naturally, as a local Senator, Senator Keogan makes the case that it would and naturally, as a Meath Deputy, I recognise the need for it as well. It is to be hoped that the figures will show that too and we can get resources allocated to make it happen.
I formally welcome the boys and girls of Cortown National School to the Seanad. We always love to have the opportunity to welcome boys and girls from schools. It is so important that they have the opportunity to come to Leinster House and to see democracy in action. There you saw a perfect example of something that is happening in Meath. We all hope you have a nice day and that you return having learned something about how Leinster House works.